Swenglish? Englahili? Kiswanglish?

I think most people agree that an English-Spanish mix is Spanglish (or Espanglish, as they say in Spanish-speaking countries) and Chinese and English is Chinglish. However, I can’t seem to find a consensus on what Kiswahili-English ought to be. Which is a shame, considering I’ve never seen two languages mixed so commonly with each other.

The mix of Swahili and English goes beyond just people who mix the two together, the same way you might hear an American Latino sprinkle some Spanish into their English. It is often used in the same way, but also is done on a more formal level. For instance, I’ve watched television shows where some of the characters speak Swahili while others speak English. In fact, I was watching it in a town in Northern Kenya with our security guard, who speaks Kiswahili and Kisamburu, but doesn’t speak English. So between the two of us, we understood every single line that was spoken. However, neither of us could understand all of it, and so consequentially neither of us completely understood what was happening.

Reality shows are similar, if not even more mixed. I was watching Kenya’s equivalent of “So you think you can dance?” and the hostess would switch back and forth. “Halafu, we have a group coming all the way from Mombasa! Unaona (whatever the show was called)!” Really bizarre.

I have to admit, I haven’t been immune from Kiswanglish, or whatever it is called. I was in Northern Kenya this past week with my job, where we were doing staff training. A lot of Kenyans from the North find my accent and pace of talking (believe it or not, the accent more than the pace, slowing down doesn’t seem to help my chances any), so I’d sprinkle in some Swahili to help make what I was saying more intelligible. So my conversation would be something like “Halafu, unaandika (then, you write) two X’s here, each of which represents shilingi mia moja (100 shillings).” It (I think) made me a little easier to understand, but I’m sure would have been quite bizarre to a foreigner watching me employ this technique. Whatever it’s called though, Swenglish/Englahili/Kiswanglish doesn’t seem to be a “language” I’ll abandon anytime soon.

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4 Responses to Swenglish? Englahili? Kiswanglish?

  1. The Stark in Winterfell says:

    And Swahili itself is a pretty prominent example of language mixing as well. In the long term maybe it makes sense that some term hasn’t developed for the combination of English (a language externally introduced) and Swahili, because Swahili itself reflects the area’s long linguistic interaction with an externally introduced language (Arabic). Perhaps if the interaction lasts as long as the Arabic presence in East Africa has up to this point, the language will continue to be called Swahili, but with even more subtle and obvious ties to English, ties that will be as often and as little discussed as Swahili’s connection with Arabic.

    • nate0316 says:

      You’re absolutely right, of course. I had a discussion with someone about Swahili, and how it’s an interesting mix of a Bantu language, Arabic and English. They argued that English shouldn’t count though, since it’s only words like roketi (rocket) or kompyuta that are English. But my point: that’s exactly how languages change! I’m sure earlier, people objected to saying Arabic borrowed words were legitimately Swahili, like alhamisi being Thursday, on the grounds that it was only prayer words and that sort of thing that came from Arabic (or maybe not, maybe they weren’t having linguistic conversations then). But in any case, Swahili is absolutely a mishmash of languages, which certainly could explain the mixing. There’s currently a slang known as Sheng, which is spoken by youth in Nairobi that encompasses Swahili, English and Kikuyu (the language of the tribe here with a plurality) but I’m not sure that really “counts” as the further integration of Swahili and English.

  2. Lolz says:

    I speako espanol. Comes understando, mi amiego?!

  3. lrb5 says:

    Your experience is more like a true immersion experience than when you studied espanol for years and gained a degree of proficiency before using your language skills abroad. Of necessity, you’re using strategies that are more like the survival skills that people who find themselves in a foreign land must develop. Good for you! Get creative and plunge in!!

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